The Roll-Call of Faith
January 31st, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE ROLL CALL OF FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-31-60 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we have come finally, after fourteen years, to one of the great, great, great high chapters of the Bible, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, and the title of the sermon is The Roll Call Of Faith.
By faith Abel; by faith Enoch; by faith Noah; by faith Abraham; by faith Isaac and Jacob, and by faith Joseph; by faith Moses; by faith Rahab; And what shall I say more? For the time would fail me to tell of the other heroes of faith who, in God’s strength and power, subdued kingdoms, obtained promises, quenched the violence of fire, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, received their dead again, had trials and mockings and scourgings, were stoned, were sawn asunder, were slain with the sword, wandered in sheep skins and goat skins, destitute, afflicted, tormented, God having provided some better thing…
[Adapted from Hebrews 11]
Just to speak of it thrills your heart. To read it lifts up your soul. To speak of it, it’s like entering the celestial city itself, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. There are many roll calls of the glorious and the illustrious on the pages of profane history, both ancient and modern. You have seen them. These belong to the dynasties of the pharaohs, and that is a long roll. And here are the kings of Persia, and these are the emperors of Rome. Here is the long lineage and genealogy of the kings of England. If you go to St. Paul’s in Rome, you’ll see a picture around of all of the popes. If you go to the State Capitol in Texas, there are the pictures of the governors of our great state.
We have our roll calls of fame in the world of sports, such as at Cooperstown, isn’t that the place? New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame. And we have, in almost every little town and big, and even in our church foyer, you will find the roll calls of these who offered their lives for our country, put on the uniform and went away to defend the freedom and life of our people. And then there will be also be a roll of our honored and glorious dead.
We are accustomed to it. We read it. We see it. It’s in monuments. It’s on the pages of history. But the most glorious roll call in God’s heaven and in God’s earth is the roll call of God’s saints, who by faith inherited the promises in Christ. A part of that roll you will find in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, but the author hastens to say it’s but a little piece, it’s just a small part: "for what should I say more?" These who are in enrolled in God’s Book of Life, their names are written in glory. Our Savior said that the most glorious role in the earth and in heaven, in time, in history, in all eternity is to have your name written in that Book of Life, in God’s roll of the faithful.
When the seventy came back, the Scriptures say in the tenth chapter of Luke they returned with joy and said to the Master, "Even the demons are subject unto us." And the Lord replied, "It is a great, great and mighty thing I beheld," He said, "in the power of your ministry. I beheld Satan as lightning, falling from heaven, overcome, defeated. It’s a great and a mighty thing. But," our Lord added, "notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that demons are subject unto you; but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven" [Luke 10:17-20].
In the last book of the Old Testament and next-to-the-last chapter, there is found what I think is the most beautiful verse in the Bible. It’s a verse that describes the people who love the Lord, and it says, "Then they that feared the Lord thought often upon His name and spake often to one another." And what does the Lord do for them? The Book says God does for them the greatest thing God Himself could do. And the verse continues, "And the Lord caused a book of remembrance to be written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name" [Malachi 3:16].
The book, that book of God, that Book of Life, those heroes of the faith written in God’s book of heaven; why, the glorious, climatic consummation of this whole work of God is delineated and described and presented in the Book of the Revelation. And what that revelation is: there’s a book, and the Lamb alone is worthy to open it, and when He does, there on the page, bright and fair, are the names of the redeemed of all God’s children, and for them God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
"Why, pastor, are you so insistent that to be in that roll, to be in that fellowship, to be in that kingdom, to be in that association is to be enrolled in a greater kingdom and a greater fellowship than all of the illustrious rolls of the earth, whether ancient or modern?" I have several reasons for it, and the first is this: because that kingdom and that inheritance is an everlasting kingdom and an everlasting inheritance. Where is the glory that was great and the grandeur that was Rome? Where are the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? And where is the golden palace of Nero? These mighty empires and mighty kingdoms have had their day and have decayed and died and passed from the earth with their glory, their might, and their power.
I suppose the most beautiful poem in any language is Gray’s "Elegy":
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
[Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"]
But in this kingdom, in this inheritance we have a possession forever and forever and forever. It never passes away. Any old church, any old-time church, will sing a hymn that we have known and sung since we were little children: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound." And the last stanza of that poem is the greatest stanza of any hymn in this world:
[When] we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
There’s no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
["Amazing Grace," John Newton]
It doesn’t pass away. The inheritance is forever and forever. And the fellowship, the association is sweeter and greater.
I have thought or tried to think: how would it have been to have accompanied Alexander the Great when he conquered the civilized world? What a glorious group; those marvelous generals, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander – oh, what marvelous men! Aristotle taught him, able and brilliant. Why, to have lived in that day, what a glorious, glorious privilege! I think what it would have been to be a favorite of Augustus Caesar and have seen the pageantry every day of the glory and might of a kingdom that has gone beyond anything this earth has ever reached, and, according to the Word, will never reach again. The Roman Empire was the last great empire of the civilized world. Think what it would have been. Think what it would have been to have been a favorite in the glittering, incomparable court of Louis XIV in France; watch him build the Palace of Versailles, and watch him there as he entertains the great of the earth in a lavishness and in a splendor like the world had never seen! Why, to think of all of the glitter, and glory, and tinsel, and tinfoil, and might, and power of all of the courts of all of the great of all of the earth does not begin to compare with the glory, and the fullness, and the abundance, and the richness of the fellowship and the association of God’s saints in glory.
Why, imagine walking up to Enoch. And I’d like to ask him, "Enoch, one of the stories I’ve so often heard about you is of the little Sunday school girl who described in her Sunday school lesson to her mother, said, ‘Mother, it was like this: There was a man named Enoch, and he and God were walking together, and they walked and they walked and they walked. And toward the setting of the sun, God said to Enoch, ‘Enoch, we have walked a long ways together, you and I. And Enoch, it’s a lot nearer My home than yours, so you just come in and stay with Me.’" I’d like to ask Enoch, "Enoch, was it something like that? Is that the way it happened?" [Genesis 5:24].
I’d like to ask Abraham: "Abraham, when Jesus said, ‘And Abraham rejoiced to see my face, and he saw it, and was glad’ [John 8:56], Abraham, when did you see that face? Was it on Mount Moriah, when you held the knife in your hand to take the life of your only son? [Genesis 22:6-13]. And when God called from heaven and said, ‘Spare the boy and offer in his stead the ram caught by his horns in a thicket,’ Abraham, was it then that you saw the day of Christ and rejoiced?"
Why, I’d like to ask Jacob: "Jacob, when you got to heaven and saw Jesus, Jacob, did you recognize Him as the One who wrestled with you all night at Peniel?" [Genesis 32:24-31]. I’d like to ask the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace who, as they walked, untouched and unhurt by the flames, found themselves accompanied by the fourth that is described as the Son of God [Daniel 3:20-25] – I would like to ask those three Hebrew children: "Did you recognize Jesus as the fourth one in the furnace when you saw His face in glory?"
Why, it is incomparable, it is incomparable, and above all and most of all, to see Jesus. Can you imagine it? In all of His glory, no longer in humility, wearing a crown of thorns with spittle on His beard and blood streaming from His wounds and tears falling from His eyes [Matthew 27:27-31], but our blessed Lord seated on the throne of glory [Matthew 25:31]; why, can you imagine it?
Lee Roy, I’ve been trying to think to tell you. There’s an old-time song written by blind Fannie Crosby that, when I was a boy in Sunday school, we sang often, often, often. And I was surprised to find that it’s in our hymn book. The title of it is "My Savior First Of All," and that blind, sainted woman wrote the stanzas thus:
When my life’s work is ended and I cross the swelling tide
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side
And His smile will be the first to welcome me
Oh, the so-thrilling rapture when I view His blessed face
And the luster of His kindly, loving eyes
How my full heart will praise Him for the mercy, care and grace
That prepared for me a mansion in the skies
Oh, the dear ones in glory have a’beckoned me to come
And our parting at the river I recall
To the sweet veil of Eden, they will sing my welcome home
But I long to see my Savior first of all
Through the gates of the city in a robe of spotless white,
He will lead me where no tears shall ever fall
In the glad song of the ages I shall mingle with delight
But I long to see my Savior first of all
I have not the words to describe it, nor does the poem that I could read give it the fullness of all of its glory and meaning. We live in a dissolving fellowship. Our family circles break one by one. If yours is not broken, it will be. We live in a dissolving church fellowship. Why, I never sit here and look out over this congregation without thinking of familiar faces whom we have loved and lost for a while.
Judge Ryburn, in teaching your class, I have heard you mention so many times those wonderful, faithful, godly men who loved this church and poured their hearts’ back into it. And they are on the other side; a dissolving fellowship. But God says they don’t hang wreaths on the doors of heaven, and God says there are no graves on the hillsides of glory. No funeral processions through those golden streets. No tears and sobs and lamentations over these who are taken away from us in this life and in this earth [Revelation 21:4]. Oh, the fellowship is sweeter and dearer. And this glorious author would say that the reward is surer. In speaking of Moses:
By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
The crowned prince of the Egyptian throne: you want to know somewhat of lavish riches of those Oriental kings? Just visit King Tut’s assortment of gold chariots and chairs in the Cairo museum. The riches of Egypt, treasures of the pharaohs, all of them his. And he refused the throne, choosing to suffer with the people of God, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. "For," the author says, "he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." He weighs them and he looks at them. On this side, the glory of a pharaoh – the throne, the wealth, the riches, the fame, the power of an absolute monarch – and against it, the misery and poverty of the people of God.
We are blessed in America. How often is the reward reckoned in blood and tears and cries? And he speaks of it: "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, were tempted and tormented and destitute. Of whom the world was not worthy, living in dens and caves of the earth, in trials and cruel mockings and scourging and bonds and imprisonments" [Hebrews 11:37-38].
Preacher, what do you mean when you say the reward is surer, and greater, and mightier, and better, and sweeter, and finer? Do you mean trial, and scourging, and stoning, and temptation, and wandering in destitution, and affliction, and torment? God says that it is. For God has prepared, so the Book says, some better thing [Hebrews 11:40].
And when I get to thinking about it, if I believe in God at all, that is so certainly true. Jesus so many times would speak of a thing like this. That fellow, that rich farmer, tore down his barns to build bigger. And when he looked as though he possessed the whole earth and all that was in it, he said, "Now, soul, take thine ease. Look, look, what is stored up for you. Look! Eat and drink and really live." And that night he died. God says, "Now whose are all of these things?" So is the man who is not rich toward God [Luke 12:16-20]. Then how many times would He say in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not lay up treasures in this earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal" [Matthew 6:19-21]. All of it you have for a moment and it’s left behind. You don’t take it with you.
But these, these – then he mentions it and illustrates it – wandering, confessing that they were "strangers and pilgrims in the earth, looking for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God" [Hebrews 11:10, 13]. Then how does God do? "Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them that city" [Hebrews 11:16]. Their eyes were lifted up; strangers and pilgrims in the earth, destitute, and afflicted, and tormented, looking for the city of God. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them that city – and again, I haven’t the eloquence to describe it, nor could I find a poem adequate to it – that beautiful city God hath prepared for them who love Him.
I must close. I take time for just one other. Why, to be in that roll is greater and sweeter and finer than to be enrolled among the kings of the earth and the greats of all history and time. Just to have your name in God’s Book of Life, I say that the prospect is sweeter and dearer.
You know, when I was growing up, one of the most famous men when I was a boy was Clarence Darrow. Why, there would be months almost that he would make the headlines every day; when he defended Loeb and Leopold in that trial when they killed the little Franks boy in Chicago, you remember that. Clarence Darrow, for days and weeks and weeks, was the headline of every paper. And especially did the caustic and the infidel and the unbeliever worship at the shrine of Clarence Darrow, the great, great agnostic, when he defended Scopes in the evolution trial of Dayton, Tennessee, against William Jennings Bryan.
Well, as a boy, that made a great impression upon me. So, when he wrote the story of his life – and that’s the name of it, The Story of My Life – I was the first one, I guess, down there to buy the book. I took it home. I read the whole thing avidly through. I can remember now the impressions that I had as a boy. This is the gloomiest and the most dismal book I have ever read! He closes with this kind of a sentence: "I suppose," he says, contemptuously, "that I will be like all of the rest. With my last breath, I will be gasping for one more, but it is all emptiness, and futility, and vanity, and nothing."
I don’t compare this unknown soldier to the great and illustrious criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow. But I do say, in telling the story, I would rather be this unknown soldier than to be the great Darrow. And the story that I heard as a boy was this: it was right after World War I that I can remember, as a child. And after the fury of the battle, the nurse was there among those slaughtered and slain boys, ministering the best she could. As she knelt over one, she heard an American soldier boy, so grievously hurt and wounded, she heard him cry, "Here, here."
So she left and went over to him and said, "You called me?"
"No, kind nurse," said the boy, "I did not call."
She went back to minister to the other lad and heard him again, "Here, here!"
Left to go again, and the boy said, " Nurse, I did not call."
She went back and heard it again, "Here, here!" She went back and said, "You did call me."
"Oh, no, nurse," he said. "Oh, no. They’re calling the roll in glory, and I’m answering to my name."
I don’t know who he is. One of those unknown soldiers; but he loved God, and he was enrolled among the heroes of faith. And when God opened the book and called the names of those who had placed their trust in Him, his name was in the roll of the illustrious, and he was answering, he says, to his name.
All of us, great and little, old and young, all of us can share in that incomparable day. Our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, present when the roll call is made in glory. Why, whether I live in a little house or a big one, whether somebody knew me or nobody ever heard of me, whether I died rich or in misery and in poverty, what would it matter? It’s just that we’re enrolled among the faithful who trusted Jesus, who looked in faith to Him, and found in His blessed promise that inheritance that could never pass away.
Is your name in the book? Has God written it in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Is your name written there on the page, bright and fair? Is it? If it is, you are the richest man and the most gloriously enrolled in the earth. If it isn’t, we have lost all things besides, and our souls.
That’s why the appeal of this morning: in this balcony round, somebody you give his heart in faith and trust to Jesus. Would you come? On this lower floor, a family you: "Pastor, we’ve trusted Jesus as Savior. We’ve been baptized. We’re coming into the fellowship of this church"; or maybe it’s to come by baptism, or to come by trusting Jesus. However God shall say the word and lead the way and open the door, would you make it this morning? Would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairwells or into the aisle and here to the front: "Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God." Would you make it now? Would you it make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing?
THE ROLL CALL OF FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Illustrious roll-calls of history, ancient and modern
B. A greater roll-call – Book of Life, God’s roll of the faithful
1. Here is just a small piece of that book (Hebrews 11:32)
C. Jesus declared it the greatest honor in heaven and earth(Luke 10:17-20, Malachi 3:16, Revelation 5, 21)
II. And everlasting kingdom and everlasting inheritance
A. Where is the glory of Rome? the golden palace of Nero?
1. The might of nations, glory of empires are but for a moment
2. Gray’s "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
B. In kingdom of God we have a possession forever
III. The association, fellowship, is greater and sweeter
A.How would it have been to be with Alexander the Great, Louis XIV?
B. Does not compare to the glory and fullness of the association of God’s saints in glory
1. Imagine talking to Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, the three Hebrew children (Genesis 5:24, 22:6-13, 32:24-31, John 8:56, Daniel 3:20-25)
2. Incomparable and above all to see Jesus(Matthew 25:31, 27:27-31)
a. Hymn, "My Savior First of All"
C. Here we live in a dissolving fellowship
IV. The reward is surer (Hebrews 11:24-26)
A. The rewards of this life are oft times pleasant
1. But the teachings of Jesus inescapable(Luke 12:15-21, Matthew 6:19-20)
B. The rewards of the saints in this life are oft times bitter(Hebrews 11:36-38)
1. But God hath prepared some better thing(Hebrews 11:10, 13, 16, 40)
V. The comforting prospect is dearer
A. Clarence Darrow’s The Story of My Life
B. The fallen soldier to the nurse – "They’re calling the roll in glory…"